Sucheta Das Mohapatra
Very few people were left unaffected by the second wave of COVID-19. Dance and other arts forms came as a saviour for those who went through terrible lows during that time.
Dancing lets me feel free! Years of being a doctor had made me stoic and well-versed with hiding emotions. Odissi brought all that out. From mudras to stances, everything felt so liberating. I would be dead tired after work but still go for my classes and feel the endorphins rush,” says Dr Gunjan Jha, Consultant Physician, Pursuit of Health Clinic, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad who joined the Kutapo Centre of Odissi Dance in April 2021, when the country was worst hit by the second COVID-19 wave and saw unprecedented deaths every day.
In early 2021, Dr Gunjan was diagnosed with extra-pulmonary tuberculosis with Poncet’s disease. For weeks she could not get up from the bed on her own. She thought she would die. That’s when she felt the need to rekindle her love for dance. Dr Gunjan had learnt Bharatanatyam and then Kathak during her school days but in her pursuit of a career in medicine, she had to forego these after Class IX. This time, after all these years, she chose to learn yet another poetry in motion – Odissi.
As she started recovering, she joined the dance class online. She not only reignited her love for classical dance but also continued to dance even after she conceived. “When I started taking the classes, it brought back memories of my student life when each class was filled with so much excitement and learning! Dance helped me to stay active throughout my pregnancy and post delivery. In fact, I continued dancing till full-term and started a week after the caesarean delivery.” Her dance guru Jogamaya Samal says, “Gunjan is full of passion. I thought she should rest after her C-section, but since she is a doctor, she knew what was best for her.”
COVID-19 affected almost everyone physically or psychologically. Even some healthcare professionals, who are trained not to focus on their emotional responses, could not stay strong. They broke down or took to dancing, singing, painting, and also writing to stay sane amid the crisis. Samal who has two Kutapo dance centres, one in Delhi and another in Greater Noida West, could not operate the centres offline due to the pandemic but many young and middle-aged professionals from different walks of life contacted her to learn the dance form online. Besides technocrats, IT and HR professionals, homemakers and young enthusiastic children, Samal has four doctors as her students, including one who is with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and two with Fortis Hospital Noida.
Dr Gunjan who also works as a Senior Resident with Fortis Hospital Noida says, “April and May 2021 were extremely difficult for me personally and professionally during the second COVID-19 wave. Handling deaths on a daily basis and worrying about parents living far away, I would be on the verge of breaking down. Dancing made me feel more spiritual and gave me the strength to move on. It was a small window to meet lots of other enthusiastic women taking out time from their busy lives to keep our cultural heritage alive.”
Expressive therapies, which include dance, music, art and writing are very effective in improving our mental well-being and have helped many emotionally broken men, women and also children, survive the pandemic. “Drawing and painting give me peace,” says Alka Agarwal who has been teaching art to children with disabilities at the Chander Nagar, Ghaziabad centre of the Association for Learning Performing Arts and Normative Action (ALPANA) for the last 10 years.
“Many of my students could not draw a line properly. Now they make such beautiful sketches and paintings. Teaching them online was bliss during the pandemic when our children were away and my husband and I had nothing to do. My husband, who had been a businessman all his life, even started writing poems,” says Agarwal with a smile.
However, things were not rosy for all. Alpana Nayak, the founder of ALPANA, says the pandemic arrested the growth of many of their students by several years. “Children were confined to their homes and there was no physical interaction even as our online classes went on uninterruptedly throughout the pandemic. Some children went into a cocoon. Years of effort went in vain. We had 45 students including some who had been coming to us for the last 15-16 years. Now only 24 students come to the centres,” Nayak laments.
Abhishek Rana, the centre-in-charge of the Chander Nagar centre lives in Dilshad Garden and has also been a student of the centre for 12 years now. “I am an assistant teacher. I manage the centre and am also learning Odissi. This year I am appearing for the fourth year exam to be conducted by the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Mumbai. I feel good when I come here and even better when I perform on stage,” says Abhishek.
Nayak informs that 90 per cent of the children with disabilities who come to the centre are mentally challenged and that includes children with autism and Down’s syndrome. At the three centres (Kalyanpuri and Jhilmil in Delhi and Chander Nagar in Ghaziabad) of ALPANA, classes for both the non-challenged children and children with disabilities are held together. “It helps children with disabilities pick up fast.”
Depression and stress-related disorders are more rampant in urban areas and the causes are many including air and noise pollution, traffic, work stress, grief, neglect, loneliness, peer pressure, etc.
Across the globe, dance or movement therapy is increasingly becoming popular to treat people with depression. India is blessed with a culturally rich heritage, which has so much to offer as therapies to do away with negative emotions, sadness, depression, anxiety and enhance both our physical and emotional well-being.
“Dancing is a powerful tool for guiding the mind and enriching the soul. We are fortunate to be part of an evolved civilisation with innumerable remarkable classical dance forms. Learning one of them can completely change our lifestyle and also help deal with many psychological disorders that are rampant in the chaotic urban life,” says Dr Gunjan who performed at the Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, recently while her three and a half month old boy watched from his granny’s lap in the audience.